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Review TV

SyFy’s The Expanse

I’ve been a big booster of The Expanse books for a long time (note that I’ve been acquainted with one half of the author team that makes up James S. A. Corey since I’ve been on the internet), but I haven’t yet reviewed the TV show.  Hey, I’m a busy guy, and there’s a lot of media out there, but I need to get this out there:  you should be watching The Expanse.  It’s a big-budget science fiction TV show done about as right as you can do it.

First, the facts of the show/books in case you don’t know them.  It’s set 200 years in the future.  An efficient drive was invented to push ships around the solar system, so humanity has spread to the Moon, Mars and to the asteroid belt and beyond.  Mars broke away from Earth (now run by the UN) and has formed its own Republic.  Both rely on the materials mined out in the belt.  The people of the belt do the exceedingly hard and dangerous work but chafe under the leadership of the planets ‘down the well’ (as in, the gravity well of the sun).  The OPA, or Outer Planets Alliance, is akin to the Irish Republican Army.  There are political aspects, people who simply want to get the outer planets recognized as free, but a lot of terrorists as well.

Let’s break down the components of the show that are making it must-see TV.  First, space looks amazing and real.  The real sets mix seamlessly with the needed CGI to produce ships and stations with a real heft to them.  Whether it’s a run-down ice hauler or the latest Martian battleship, it all feels real – and like a natural progression of tech from now to then.

The-Expanse-MillerBut maybe spaceship battles aren’t your thing?  Let me introduce you to Thomas Jane’s Detective Miller.  He’s a classic noir detective.  He’s seen everything, and straddles the line of corruption, much to his Earther partner’s chagrin.  He gets an interesting side job from his boss – find a missing rich girl who’s gone native with the OPA, and kidnap her home to her parents.  How Julie Mao ties into the struggle between the inner and outer planets is core to the show.

On the other side of things, you get Jim Holden and the crew of the ice hauler Canterbury.  Holden is content to live out his days with little authority and a steady job until circumstances throw him and his crew into the middle of a conspiracy that threatens to take that UN/Mars cold war and make it a hot one.

If Firefly was your thing, Holden and the crew are what you need.  They are the exact sort of misfits that end up working on an ice hauler out past the belt.  Everyone is either hiding from something, leaving something behind, or looking for something.  The Expanse isn’t rushing the reveals either – everybody fit neatly into a role, Naomi the engineer, Alex the pilot, Amos as the muscle – but the hints and teases of their backgrounds (filled out over more than a half-dozen books, novellas and short stories) are working their way in slowly.

ExpanseRociCrew

Maybe you are interested in the politics of a world like this, well, they’ve got you covered too.  Shohreh Aghdashloo plays Chrisjen Avarsala, a UN Deputy Undersecretary who is a master and the push-and-pull world of politics.  She uses her intelligence and cultivation of relationships to work over whoever gets in her way in protecting Earth’s interests.  She’s a fan favorite character from the books, and Shohreh and the writers have done an amazing job bringing Avarsala to life.

I feel like I could dedicate pages to every character, whether it’s Chad Coleman’s Fred Johnson (former military man now firmly on the OPA’s side), or Anderson Dawes, the OPA heavy that is the main thorn in Miller’s side on Ceres station.  The showrunners, casting director and writers (which includes the writers of the books by the way) have done a superb job of fleshing out the world.

Convinced?  Still on the fence?  The first five episodes can be streamed via SyFy.com which also has some cool interactive material to go with them.  After those five, you have to sign in with your TV provider’s account, or you can always purchase The Expanse‘s first season via Amazon.

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Books Review

Book Review – Star Wars: Honor Among Thieves

As soon as I heard James S. A. Corey (the Sci-fi pen name for writers Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham) had signed on to write a Star Wars novel, I was all in. Even better was the fact that most SW novels get put on Netgalley so I can read them early review them for you.  This is actually the second of three books in the ‘Empire and Rebellion’ series (though they are not interconnected), which has books that follow each of the three primary protagonists of the original trilogy in a new story set during the Rebellion.  The first, Razor’s Edge, focused on Princess Leia.  Honor Among Thieves is all about Han.

The first thing I’d point out is the only thing you need to know about the Star Wars universe to enjoy this book is just the original trilogy.  That’s great, as some of the other books are deep into the Expanded Universe nerdery (and much of that may be getting swept aside as Disney tries to make it one big happy universe).

This story follows Han and Chewie after the destruction of the first Death Star, as they try and reconcile being scoundrels who dislike any and all governments with working for the Rebels, whose stated goal is to replace the Empire with a new Republic.  I really enjoyed Han’s internal struggle – he likes and trusts Leia and Luke, but doesn’t (yet) want to join the team.  This plays well against the new hero we meet in Scarlet Hark.  Han and Chewie go on a simple mission to extract the Rebel spy, but thing don’t go exactly according to plan.  But hey, do they ever?  What it kicks off is a race between the Rebels and the Empire for a long-lost superweapon that adds a very Indiana Jones feel to the Star Wars universe.  The use of Leia and Scarlet as a choice between the independent life of a smuggler and the legitimate government agent works well to build the character of Han into the man we know later in Return of the Jedi as well as in Zahn’s books.  If I had any complaints – and they’d be very minor – it’s that the plot contrivance of a superweapon created by a long-lost race seems a bit played, but it didn’t take my enjoyment away at all from the rest.  There’s a few EU lore bits that stuck out as being off, such as a Noghri appearing (and Han knowing what it was) but again, doesn’t cause a problem for the story.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in what happened during the Rebel years, or who enjoys Corey’s Expanse series.  Honor Among Thieves will be on sale 3/4.

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Books Review

Book Review: Abaddon’s Gate

Abaddon’s Gate is the third book in James S. A Corey’s Expanse series, and it kicks a whole heck of a lot of ass.  James Holden is haunted – literally. Miller is dead, but that doesn’t stop the detective from appearing to Holden again and again, each time speaking nonsense, or possibly a warning, to him.  Despite that, things couldn’t get much better for his plucky crew.  They are flush with cash after some successful freelance missions, they have a ship that’s been refit and repaired better than it was before, and they can keep out of the political mire that from the events.

It all changes when Mars wants their ship back and brings considerable legal muscle to bear.  Holden has to deal, and it lands him exactly where he doesn’t want to be, heading straight for the gate built by the alien protomolecule (remember that?).  Where it leads and the consequences of it all are vast, and could decide the fate of humanity.

We get a few new POV characters – a Methodist pastor among many religious leaders heading out to the gate to try and make sense of it, and a woman with an axe to grind with Holden and the crew.  It’s kind of funny, since I’ve traveled in many of the same internet circles with Ty Franck (one half of the James S. A Corey pseudonym) I know exactly where the pastor character comes from and why certain areas are mentioned.  I enjoyed the book immensely, even if Bobbie Draper’s absence was noted.  This book could be considered a trilogy’s end, but they’ve got more stories to tell in this world, and let’s just say the ending is ‘open’ to it.  Highly recommended.  Get it here.

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Books Featured Review

Book Review – Caliban’s War

Caliban’s War, the second book in James S. A. Corey’s “The Expanse” series, begins with a bang.  Ganymede, the moon of Jupiter, is the breadbasket of the outer planets, producing the food needed in all the asteroids and ships out that far.  Mars and Earth both have domes on the moon, and with the uneasy truce, the Marines on both sides settle into a routine of patrols. Patrols made more ridiculous by the fact that any war would typically involve smashing the domes from orbit.  When Martian Marine Bobbie Draper witnesses…something ravage the opposing UN Marine patrol and then do the same to hers, well, that’s when it really hits the fan.  Is it related to whatever the alien protomolecule is growing on Venus?  Or something worse?  And what does it have to do with a bunch of children that went missing before the attack?

I LOVE this book.  Caliban’s War moves at a breakneck pace, through the same claustrophobic and dangerous world of realistic space travel.  This time, though, instead of mixing noir detective intrigue in with kickass space opera, you have a peek into the politics and pressures that have so far kept Mars, Earth, and the Outer Planets from self-destructing.  It’s an interesting change, and that’s coming from a guy that would rather jam ice picks in his ears than listen to politicians speak.  Two female viewpoint characters (the previously mentioned Marine, Gunnery Sergeant Draper, is one) mix things up a bit.

I’ve evangelized about The Expanse series before, and this book lives up to even my expectations.  The figurative bomb dropped in the last line has me DYING for the next one in the series.  CHECK IT OUT already.

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Review

Book Review – Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey

Leviathan Wakes
No, not scary at all, why do you ask? mwahaha...

I wish I had more time to read, as I really enjoy it.  In fact, much of my formative internet time as a kid on up was spent in the discussion boards and later websites/forums for my favorite author, Orson Scott Card.  It was awesome – here was a whole group of people who spoke my language, who loved Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead as much as I did.  Among them was a man whose name I now know to be Ty Franck, half of the writing duo who makes up James S. A. Corey, the other being fantasy writer Daniel Abraham.  I guess this is the long way of saying that unlike the majority who read this review, I was much more familiar with Ty’s writing style than Daniel’s.

The book (first in a trilogy) is set within our Solar System.  Earth and Mars are at an uneasy peace, while the inhabitants of the asteroid belt are just trying to survive in the harsh, unforgiving environment, where you are completely reliant on shipments of gasses and water to keep yourselves alive.  It’s within this delicate balance that we meet Jim Holden, XO of the ice hauler Cantebury on the return trip from the rings of Saturn.  When the Cantebury gets nuked while Holden is exploring a derelict ship, it becomes clear he has stumbled onto a mystery someone is willing to start a war to protect.

The other half of the story is belter Detective Miller, working security on the largest Belt settlement, the asteroid Ceres.  The drunk, divorced Miller gets all the shit assignments, including the Earther partner, but gets fixated on a case no one wants him to try to hard to solve – a missing corporate heiress who’s gone native and joined a belter revolutionary group.  When the detective’s search points him square at Jim Holden, the two men must learn to work together before the entire solar system shakes itself apart.

The book is a bit of a slow starter, but it builds up momentum constantly, with plenty of action to be the counterpoint to the deep thinking.  There’s a bit of a Lovecraftian bent to the writing, though I won’t go any further as to avoid spoilers.  I will tell you that I had to keep reading until I finished it, and there was a solid ending despite being the first book in a series.  I’m eagerly awaiting the second book.  And to re-read this one when my Nook comes.  If you wish to purchase Leviathan Wakes, either click the link on the right of the homepage to pre-order a real physical book you can smell and feel, or click this link for the Nook eBook: Leviathan Wakes. If you like Amazon, go here: Leviathan Wakes. You can get it right away by buying Daniel Abraham’s The Dragon’s Path eBook. I’ll be buying a paper copy when available though.

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Console Games Media PC Games Software

Links From The Blogroll

Hey, everybody.  Haven’t been around much to post here, mostly because I haven’t seen any movies or played any new video games to review. ;)  That should change this weekend.  What I would like to do is highlight some of the newer additions to my blogroll and give some examples as to why you should be reading these sites.

The Expanse – a shared blog about Science Fiction and Fantasy from Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck

These two gents are writers, whose collaboration via the pen name James S. A. Corey Leviathan Wakes is due out this summer.  I’ve read parts of it in other forms, and it’s awesome.  Their shared blog has the musings of two well-spoken men on a variety of topics, including racism and exoticism in sci-fi and fantasy novels.  Well worth a read for writers, or anyone who likes to know about others’ creative processes.

A Walk in the Dark – A look into the mind of a DnD Campaign Designer

Shifting gears slightly, you have the blog of David “Nighthawk” Flor, a software dev and game designer I know.  He’s done mods for Half-Life, so if the name is familiar, you probably played The Opera (he mentions it here).  Nighthawk has a lot to say about game design, whether about how to handle insanity in DnD compared to Call of Cthulu, or creating random dice rolls for games hosted online.

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I won’t pretend to know all that he’s talking about in regards to synthesizers and such, but Thomas Emmons is a composer in California who has a ton to say about music, computers and more.  Here’s a post about social networks and collaboration in the music scene.

Sakeriver

Mike is a photographer and dad, which combine for some cute pictures of his son, Jason.  He also writes some insightful stuff over at Life as a Human.  I trust Mike’s book and movie reviews, though like me he doesn’t get to do them as much any more thanks to having children.  On the plus side, he’s reviewing more ‘kid’ movies which is relevant to my interests.

So that’s a taste of what my friends are up to.  Most of whom are more creative than me.  I might do this once in a while to highlight the good work they are doing.